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NHS trials artificial intelligence app to replace 111 service

The app is to be a cheaper and more efficient service to NHS's helpline.

By Hannah Williams

The National Health Service (NHS) is to begin trialling an artificial intelligence app as an alternative to its 111 non-emergency helpline.

From the end of January 2017, the trials will be distributed to over 1.2 million residents in North London, as well as Camden, Islington, Enfield and Barnet, all of which will gain access to the app for use of urgent but non-life threatening conditions.

The app, which is launched in partnership with British tech start-up Babylon Health, will allow users to input their symptoms into the app for the app to decide how urgent their medical needs are. It will then respond with questions to receive further details of the problem.

The hope is that users will benefit from not having to call through the traditional 111 helpline. The trial of the app is also expected to be a potential solution to the strain on the helplines service.

Keith McNeil, Chief clinical officer, NHS told Financial times: “111 at the moment relies on an employee taking people through a pathway of questioning. They are not clinical professionals necessarily.”

According to the Telegraph, interactions with the app will be significantly cheaper and quicker to speaking over the phone.

Calls to the NHS helpline are found to cost the service between £12 to £16, depending on its service provider. However, Babylon’s triage service will be free, although the inclusion of paid video consultations with a doctor will cost £5 a month or £25 for a one-off consultation.

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In an interview with Financial Times, Ali Parsa, chief executive of Babylon said cost savings for the NHS would be “substantial compared to the current model.”

Parsa said: “They have armies of people sitting there on the phone, costing them a fortune. If they get sick, they need a replacement in place. The cost difference is not little, it’s huge.”

Babylon hopes the NHS will continue using its app after its six-month trial period, which NHS says will be measured by a number of outcomes and the amount of people using it.

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